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New Orleanians of the Year 2016: Melissa Sawyer and Sonny Lee 

Honoring Melissa Sawyer of the Youth Empowerment Project and Sonny Lee of Son of a Saint, and those who make our city a better place for young people

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Photos by Cheryl Gerber

Since 1983, the criterion for GAMBIT's New Orleanian of the Year honor has remained unchanged: The winner must be someone who made a positive difference in the preceding year. Over the years, we've honored business leaders, developers, community activists, first responders, university presidents, soldiers, chefs and others. They all share the common trait of having made a positive difference for our community.

In 2016, as in most years, the young people of our area faced a daunting array of challenges — crime, violence, lack of opportunity, poverty, hopelessness and more. Fortunately, a committed group of leaders has emerged in recent years to help local youth overcome those obstacles. We honor two of them as 2016's New Orleanians of the Year — Sonny Lee of Son of a Saint and Melissa Sawyer of the Youth Empowerment Project — but our aim is to honor all of those who give their time, talent and treasure toward making our community a better place for young people.

Besides the invaluable work of youth sports organizations and community service clubs, the list of organizations that help young people is long and impressive:

A's and Aces; Ashe Cultural Arts Center; Blessed 26; Boys Hope; Boys Town; BreakOUT; Breakthrough New Orleans; CASA; Cafe Reconcile; Children's Bureau; Communities in Schools; Covenant House; Creative Alliance of New Orleans; Edible Schoolyard; First Tee of Greater New Orleans; Girls First; Girls on the Run; Girls Rock NOLA; Grow Dat Youth Farm; the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office's Band of Excellence; Kingsley House; KID smART; Liberty's Kitchen; New Orleans Archdiocese Youth Ministry; NORD Foundation; Operation Spark; The Orchid Society; Pink House; the Roots of Music; Silverback Society; YAYA; and Youth Run NOLA.

The efforts of these organizations and others — and their leaders — inspire not only the many at-risk young people of New Orleans, but all of us who want to see those young people succeed.


New Orleanian of the Year 2016: Melissa Sawyer
Youth Empowerment Project

New Orleanian of the Year 2016: Sonny Lee
Son of a Saint

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